Ebba Grön – “Live” (1998)

Ebba Grön is one of the early Swedish punk bands, having formed in 1977.  I had them on my list of bands to look for during our first trip to Stockholm, but came away empty handed; this time around, however, I found a copy of the 2015 RSD re-release of Live, a collection of live tracks from the 1980-82 period.  Live was originally released in 1998, and copies of that version sell in the $150-200 range, so I’m glad to see it got repressed.

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Like many early punk bands, Ebba Grön focused on the young working-class and at times were seen as anti-fascist and anti-capitalist.  Bassist Lennart Eriksson even spent some time in jail for refusing to do his compulsory military service, an incident that ultimately led to the band’s dissolution.

Ebba Grön’s style of punk rock was simple, fast rock ‘n’ roll.  It’s got the classic sneer and swagger, reminding me more than a bit of The Clash (check out “Die Mauer”).  One of the best songs on this collection is the unusually ballad-esque and emotional “Mental Istid,” a heartfelt departure from the overall feel of Live.  But there’s plenty of solid rock ‘n’ roll here as well on tracks like “We’re Only In It” and “Schweden Schweden”.  There are a handful of covers too, most notably to non-Swedish audiences Chuck Berry’s “Rock and Roll Music” and Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild.”

Live will definitely appeal to fans of classic punk, and most of the vocals being in Swedish isn’t a serious detractor – the sound quality is great and all the rawness and emotion is there whether you understand the words or not.

Bad Brains – “Live” (1988)

I’m on a bit of a self-imposed record buying hiatus at the moment.  My shelves are nearly full and I haven’t decided how to rectify that situation yet, though it will likely involve a significant reduction in the number of books I have and a trip to Ikea.  Plus Iceland Airwaves is right around the corner, and I know I’ll be going on a vinyl bender while we’re in Stockholm and Reykjavik.  But I can’t just not blog… believe me, dear reader, while I’m grateful to those of you who read this stuff (and please, feel free to send me an email and say “hi!” because sometimes I wonder if anyone actually does read this stuff), I do it as much for me as I do it for you.  I’m obsessed with music, and I’m obsessed with writing, and if I didn’t have this outlet my wife would probably lose her mind because the words have to get out somehow.

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With that in mind I’ve been poking around my shelves looking for the overlooked, the early purchases from before I started Life in the Vinyl Lane, the hidden gems that haven’t been on the table in a while and that have never graced the blog.  Yesterday that record was Blank Generation; today it’s Bad Brains’ Live.

I won’t lie – I’ve never been a Bad Brains guy.  Though to be fair this is primarily due to pure ignorance on my part.  I know they were big influences for a lot of musicians, especially for those in the DC punk scene, and H.R.’s high energy performances on the mic are legendary.  But for some reason Live is the first and so far only one of their albums I’ve ever owned.  Go figure.

Punk rock, hardcore, metal, and reggae, all put into a blender with no lid on top.  That’s what Live is like, spraying music and vocals all over the place at high speed.  I’m actually surprised at how metal this album is.  The sound quality is decent, maybe a touch heavy on the low end, but that’s cool and it fits Bad Brains’ sound.  And damn their pure reggae is hot as hell too.  As much as I dig their hard stuff, I think I might even like their reggae more, so I may have to do a bit more research into that area and figure out which Bad Brains album to buy next.

Miles and Coltrane Quintet – “Live” (1990 / 2007)

I came across this little oddball live Miles Davis record at Mississippi Records on a recent visit to Portland, Oregon.  Should you ever find yourself in Portland, Mississippi is a must-visit.  Not only is the vinyl selection staggeringly deep across multiple genres for such a small shop,  but the prices are insanely reasonable, bordering on cheap.  Just keep in mind, kids, they don’t take plastic.  It’s just green-backs, so make sure to hit the cash machine first.

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I found this 2007 release of a 1958 live performance by Miles Davis and the John Coltrane quintet nestled in the New Arrivals section, and for ten bucks there really wasn’t a decision to make.  Live is just that, a live performance, and it kind of sounds it came out close to 50 years after the event… which indeed it did.  The low parts are flat – the bass is discernible, but doesn’t carry any weight to it, while Miles’ trumpet gets more adequate mic coverage – though when he’s hitting it hard, the sound gets fried at the high end.  The piano and slow parts are the best from a purely sound quality perspective.

Being the jazz neophyte that I am, I was surprised to find a song I recognized on Live – the Miles Davis composition “So What,” which appeared a year later (1959) on the incredible studio album Kind of Blue.  So this represents an earlier, live version of a very well-known song off of a seminal album, which is pretty cool.  To be fair, it’s only the intro and outro that were recognizable to me, but those stuck out in such an obvious way they couldn’t be missed.

Live is a decent record, though the sound quality was a bit flat.  It’s intriguing for the early rendition of a Miles Davis classic, and certainly for the collaboration between two jazz geniuses – but the appeal is primarily for the “next level” jazz fan, the one who has moved beyond the seminal albums to that next tier of recordings, the ones that truly start to give you the feel of the pressure of live performing.